The media has gotten it wrong when it comes to its coverage of senior living, particularly during the pandemic.
“There’s a stereotype that older adults, especially those living in any type of senior living community, have lost all independent agency. So that feeds the perception, the sense that in the midst of COVID, they’re desperately lonely, desperately afraid,” said Bob Kramer, Founder and Fellow of Nexus Insights. “There’s no common perception that they, too, could rise to a crisis, just like we see other people in society do.”
Senior Living Foresight publisher Steve Moran hosted Kramer and Jacquelyn Kung, Nexus Fellow and CEO of Activated Insights, in a recent episode of Foresight TV entitled “The Counterintuitive Way to Attract More Move-Ins.”
“Media tends to write stories that reinforce what journalists feel, or what they believe their audience feels, and add facts to magnify those feelings,” said Kung.
But it’s more than just the media, according to Kramer, “All of us quickly fall into believing in stereotypes, and parroting them. That narrative doesn’t get it right at all. And that’s what we’re trying to address, with the rich data that Jacquelyn and her team have collected at Activated Insights.”
Activated Insights has been surveying senior living residents and their families since 2018. These surveys provide insights into the actual experiences that residents and their families have with congregate living. Their experiences during the COVID pandemic and shutdown are surprisingly different from the national perception.
One of the surprising findings: When looking at the incidence of loneliness in congregate settings, specifically senior living, the Activated Insights research found that just under 20% of seniors counted themselves as very lonely.
“I think the image over the last year-and-a-half is that everyone in a senior living community is feeling trapped and lonely,” reported Kung. “But 4 out of 5 seniors are not feeling like that.”
Even more surprising? Prior to COVID, the incidence of loneliness among senior living residents was 26-27%, higher than what was found during the pandemic shutdown.
“It’s not that we’re saying there aren’t some very lonely and scared seniors in our senior living communities,” Kramer added. “But the perception that all seniors are feeling terrified, trapped and lonely isn’t borne out by what the data show. We’re all quick to jump onto stereotypes, and sometimes those stereotypes miss what’s truly going on. We want to get that contrarian message out.”
“Providers believe they know how their residents feel, because they hear from them every day,” she added. “But do they hear from everybody? No.” – Jacquelyn Kung
According to Kung, prior to the pandemic, resident survey responses frequently focused on “the usual: the food, the seasoning, the staff.” But during the pandemic, “The comments were an outpouring of community and belonging,” as well as gratitude for being in the community, and gratitude for feeling safe. “This isn’t what the media is covering about the pandemic,” she said.
The two pointed out that now, when the industry is particularly stressed, the data provide insights into how to attract people to live in a congregate setting. The important stories to tell are those about the sense of being safe, of belonging, and being part of the community. “It’s contrary to the perception,” said Kung.
“Providers believe they know how their residents feel, because they hear from them every day,” she added. “But do they hear from everybody? No. And providers are often surprised at the results when they finally survey everyone. When you don’t actually ask people, then you may be working on the wrong things. You may not be working on things that actually matter to your customers. How do we delight and provide quality experiences for our customers and their families? It’s by hearing from everyone, and not just a few who come to you.”
Jacquelyn Kung is the CEO of Activated Insights and a Nexus Insights Fellow. Bob Kramer is the Founder and Fellow of Nexus Insights. He is the co-founder, Strategic Advisor, and former CEO of NIC. Steve Moran is Publisher of Senior Living Foresight.